Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Archie Bunker’s Neighborhood

There are many different ways to engage students, and teach them something new. A way that was utilized by LLC Grant Hoover yesterday evening, which did not include watching old reruns of "All In The Family," was a hands-on, interactive activity. This activity is called, "Archie Bunker's Neighborhood" after the main character in the popular 1970's sitcom. Students and staff were split into two groups with the task of planning and building a perfect community. Group 1 named their community Atlantis, while Group 2 named their city Utopia. There were a series of rules that each groups was supposed to follow in order to build their city. In order to "construct" a building, they had to apply for a building permit, and have it approved by the Housing Authority (played brilliantly by Assistant Dean of Students Eddie Diaz). Each group was relegated to the taped of area designated for their town, and to leave the area for their permits, they must be accompanied by the police officer, LLC Bridget Le Loup, and if they broke any rules they would be jailed, during which time they were guarded by jailer and LLC, Ann Hsu. The progress of both groups was marked by periodic "news" updates by the reporter, LLC Danielle Jenkins, and Hoover acted as "Governator," answering any questions the participants may have.
As the students enthusiastically jumped into their city planning project, they quickly realized that there was far more to this activity then they originally believed. The citizens of Utopia first saw this when they tried to obtain permits for a city hall and houses. They were required to have every single document filled out precisely, criticized for bringing in applications in the wrong language, required to pay "processing fees" to get their permits, and still found that they only received a small number of the needed permits.
When Atlantis made its way to the Housing Authority, they were met with a very different situation. They filled out no paper work, but had their entire list of projects immediately approved. They were also given $5 million to fund the construction, After two re-zoning efforts by the police officer and Governator, Atlantis occupied the majority of the space being used for the exercise while Utopia was relegated to a tiny corner that was barely big enough to contain it's inhabitants.
By this time, both groups were noticing how differently the groups were being treated, and how this was affecting their ability to created a successful society. While Atlantis had erected a hospital, school, fire and police departments, church, houses and a park with a pond, Utopia had barely managed to finish their city hall. Utopia's attempts to equalize things was met with strong resistance, and many of their citizens were arrested. All of this was covered by the reporter, whose reports were very biased. One of her most outrageous reports condemned Utopian Tonya Phillips as a terrorist after she attempted to tell her the real story of what was happening to her city. By the end of exercise, the citizens of Utopia were calling for revolution, while the citizens of Atlantis attempted to alleviate their guilt by donating a hospital.


During the discussion that followed the exercise, the students in the Utopia group talked about how quickly feelings of despair and hopelessness crept up on them. Ruth Anne Pfaff, a junior majoring in psychology at UC-Davis, talked about how trying to revolt against the established power wasn't just about fairness, it also helped them not give up. "[Taking about revolution] kept me going," she said.
The students in Atlantis talked about the effects of being favored and seeing the way the other group was treated. They said that they were constantly concerned about doing something that might cause them to lose favor. Even when they gave Utopia a hospital, it was done secretly to avoid the displeasure of the "Governator."
In the end, everyone discussed how situations like this exist in many communities, and how people can be completely unaware of the inequities that are commonplace in their own cities. The group talked about a famous example in Apartheid, but also acknowledged that there are plenty of examples much closer to home. There was a consensus amongst the participants that even after such a short exercise they were more sensitive to inequality, and the social problems that might be prevalent in a community as a result. They agreed that increasing awareness was the first step to eliminating these injustices, and wanted to see Archie Bunker’s Neighborhood offered again before the voyage ends.

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